A dry rock favoured by British holidaymakers seeking guaranteed sunshine, pints of lager under a Euro and belly-busting British breakfasts whenever they fancy: This description is often the way the Canary Island of Tenerife is perceived.
But this populist image represents a minuscule facet of Tenerife’s personality. It doesn’t take an explorer of Livingstone’s mettle to discover the island’s true character; neither does it require forking out much money, especially if you follow our top 10 free things to see and do in Tenerife.
Visit a volcano
Teide National Park, Tenerife
Heading the list is a journey to the rooftop of Spain. Mount Teide, a slumbering giant of a volcano, is Spain’s highest peak, rising 3718 metres above sea level to touch the sky. El Teide is sharp-intake-of-breath impressive, lording it over an anarchic world fashioned by nature’s violent side beneath a sky that is nearly always intense blue.
The terrain in Teide National Park is equally astounding, with plains of ebony obsidian, rivers of pahoehoe hugging hillsides like melted candle wax and landscapes that could be mythical (Clash of the Titans was filmed here) or futuristic (a favourite location for scientists to test robots destined for Mars).
Swim in Garachico’s rock pools
Rock pools, Garachico, Tenerife
Tenerife’s volcanic past is responsible for another unusual attraction, the rock pools at Garachico. Once Tenerife’s main port, Garachico’s place in history changed in 1706 when an eruption sent two destructive molten rivers careening through the town to fill the harbour with lava instead of ships. Ironically, the event which nearly took the town off the map 300 years ago is now the reason people flock there.
The pools are various depths and shapes; some are suitable for toddlers, as long as they don’t mind mingling with sub-tropical fish, others require good lungs to reach the bottom.
Go crazy at carnival
Carnival Dame, Santa Cruz, Tenerife
Big, brash, outrageous, flamboyant, loud, colourful and overwhelming, Tenerife’s carnival parades and all night street parties aren’t for the faint-hearted. However, carnival is exhilarating, good-natured fun and the biggest fiesta in a fiesta rich calender. It takes place during February or March (dates change yearly) with the biggest shindig being in Tenerife’s capital, Santa Cruz.
Each traditional town celebrates their own carnival though, and a good introduction to the carnival scene are the celebrations in Puerto de la Cruz. These attract around 30,000 revellers nightly as opposed to 100,000 in Santa Cruz. The key to having an unforgettable carnival is to dress up; everyone else does.
Marvel at Masca
Setting eyes on Masca for the first time is like discovering a lost world. There’s something quasi-prehistoric about its location, tucked away in the creases of Tenerife’s ancient Teno Mountains.
A snaking descent along a narrow mountain road adds a sense of adventure to arriving somewhere that feels frozen in time. Its beauty makes Masca a tourist hotspot, so arrive late in the day to experience the hamlet at its best.
Roam around a Romería
Romeria, La Orotava, Tenerife
Every historic town on Tenerife holds a romería at some point during the year.
These are fiestas where everyone dons traditional dress and elaborately decorates ox-drawn carts before taking to the streets to hand out local goodies including gofio amasado (savoury cakes of toasted grain flour mixed with honey and almonds), papas arrugadas (wrinkled potatoes), boiled eggs, vino del pais (country wine) and juicy barbecued pork and beef fillets.
Picnic in the pines
Zona Recreativa, La Orotava, Tenerife
Each Sunday, Tinerfeños head to zonas recreativas for a picnic and a sing-along in pine forests where trees offer shade from a sun that is hot in the summer and a bit ‘less hot’ in winter. All zonas recreativas have chunky picnic tables, stone barbecues, fresh spring water and toilets.
Locals tend to arrive laden down with food, but even a simple picnic of bocadillos with jamon serrano and local cheese accompanied by Tacoronte-Acentejo wine tastes like fine dining when devoured in these pine-scented, al fresco dining rooms. Go midweek to have them to yourself.
See the 1000 year-old Drago tree
Millennium Drago Tree, Icod de los Vinos, Tenerife
Nobody knows exactly how old the Millennium Drago tree in Icod de los Vinos is. It may have stood for 5000 years, or it could be a sprightly 650 years young. Whatever its true age, it’s a fine specimen of a tree that was once believed to have sprouted from the blood of slain dragons.
The Millennium Drago is the multi-crowned king of Canarian flora and the best view of it is from Plaza de la Constitución.
Get jiggy with it at a concert
Robert Cray at Santa Blues, Santa Cruz, Tenerife
There are lots of free music festivals and concerts on Tenerife, usually as part of a town’s fiestas patronales. Mostly they feature local bands and obscure international groups and artists though occasionally you strike gold.
Robert Cray made his guitar sing spell-bindingly at the Santa Blues festival whilst Echo and the Bunnymen performed under a killer of a moon in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of La Laguna. Cultural centres are good sources of infornation about the best local concerts.
Camp it up
Camping, Vilaflor, Tenerife
Imagine sitting in a forest clearing, glass of wine in hand, under a bejewelled sky where shooting stars are commonplace. That’s camping on Tenerife.
There are thirteen official campsites spread across the island’s hillsides and it costs zilch to pitch a tent on them. They can be on the basic side which keeps the crowds away but means they’re perfect for fans of wild camping who want to feel close to nature. Although campsites are free, a pre-arranged permit is required.
An architectural wonder
Auditorio de Tenerife, Santa Cruz, Tenerife
The sleek white, contemporary curves could only be the work of Spain’s famous architectural son, Santiago Calatrava. Some people think cobra, others say a wave and then there are those who see a Trojan helmet.
Whatever it’s supposed to resemble, the Auditorio de Tenerife Adán Martín is an imagination stirrer that gives cruise passengers something to ‘ooh’ over as they sail into Santa Cruz. It’s an inspirational venue for concerts, ballets and musicals and worth a visit even if you don’t actually set foot inside.